Pay Escalates for Top College Administrators in Arkansas

Pay Escalates for Top College Administrators in Arkansas
Jeff Long of the University of Arkansas was the highest-paid highest-paid administrator of an Arkansas college or university. (Source: Administrator’s Compensation Survey, 2011-12 and 2016-17, salaries of $100,000 or more from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education; Research by Mark Friedman.)

Joseph Steinmetz, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, had a total compensation package of $536,802 for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s nearly 40 percent higher than predecessor G. David Gearhart’s just five years ago.

Escalating compensation for executive jobs at Arkansas’ public four-year schools is not unique to the UA chancellor’s office. Arkansas Tech University’s president, Robin Bowen, had a total compensation of $384,408 for the 2016-17 year. That, too, is 40 percent more — an additional $109,379 — than the total compensation paid to former ATU President Robert Brown in 2011-12.

Between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2017, a more typical compensation increase for Arkansas university administrators was between 10 and 20 percent. Inflation in the United States from June 2012 to June 2017 was 6.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Arkansas Business tracked the rising pay packages by reviewing Administrator’s Compensation Survey reports filed with the state Department of Higher Education for the 2012 and 2017 fiscal years.

The survey reports list the compensation packages of all employees of Arkansas’ public four-year universities and two-year colleges who have salaries of $100,000 or more.

In the five-year period, the size of the report rose from 607 pages to 855, with almost every page being a separate individual’s compensation report.

Earning Experience
Purchase this list, the 2017 Top Administrators' Compensation at Arkansas Public Universities as a PDF.

Arkansas Business focused on the 11 public universities, which include the Arkansas State University and UA systems, and analyzed only the positions — not the name of the employees — that had the word “chancellor” or “president” as part of the title. Of the 80 positions in the 2012 survey that Arkansas Business could match to the 2017 survey, 43 positions had 15 percent increases or more in total compensation.

Mercer LLC of New York, an employment, health, retirement and investment consulting firm, said salary increase budgets for U.S. companies have remained relatively unchanged for the last several years at 2.8 percent.

“Salary increase budgets for 2017 are also projected to be relatively unchanged at 2.9 percent … with the vast majority of organizations, 71 percent, planning to keep budgets the same from 2016 to 2017,” according to its 2016/2017 United States Compensation Planning Executive Summary.

In Arkansas Business’ tables, total compensation is the total cost of the position and includes base salary plus benefits provided to all full-time employees, such as Social Security match, retirement plan contributions and health and life insurance. Some of the employees also receive special benefits, such as a housing allowance. That amount is included in the total compensation as well. A few of the positions are subsidized with private funds, and those dollars are included in the total compensation figure but also detailed separately.

For the tables, Arkansas Business could not match some positions on the fiscal 2012 survey to positions on the fiscal 2017 survey, and vice versa. Those positions were listed as additional positions on the tables, but may not be new positions.

The institutions provided the data to the Department of Higher Education.

Across the country “there are rapidly rising salaries for college and university administrators, especially those at the top level, and there isn’t any commensurate rise in faculty or staff salaries,” said Lawrence Wittner, a professor of history emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany and someone who has studied administrators’ salaries.

Wittner, who hasn’t looked at Arkansas’ college administrator pay specifically, said in some cases schools were replacing the tenured faculty members when they retire with lower-priced adjunct professors, who have few benefits and no job security.

Schools are also raising tuition costs, he said.

Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 school years, published in-state tuition and fee prices rose by 9.4 percent in the nation’s public four-year colleges and universities, according to the College Board’s Trends in College Pricing 2016. The College Board of New York is a nonprofit that helps expand access to higher education.

“There is some backlash,” Wittner said. “There’s growing concern among the general public about the high cost of college education.”

He predicts that soon there will be “protests about the high cost of going to college just as we’ve seen growing protests about the high cost of health care in the United States.”

Being Competitive
Others, though, have defended the pay given to the top administrators as being a necessity to remain competitive.

At the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the senior administrative positions are often recruited at the national level, UAMS Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner said in an email response to questions from Arkansas Business.

“In order to remain competitive, UAMS attempts to match internal compensation practices with the external market conditions for these positions,” Gardner said. “This approach positions UAMS to attract strong applicants for these positions as well as retain the talent that we have here.”

She also said that performance goals are set with each administrator. If the administrator surpasses the goals, then a raise is discussed.

The Arkansas State University System also said it has to be competitive when setting administrators’ compensation packages.

“The Arkansas State University System strives to be competitive with peer institutions and systems to recruit and retain quality administrators, faculty and staff,” Jeff Hankins, vice president for strategic communications and economic development, said in an email response to questions from Arkansas Business. “We conduct and review various surveys of peer institutions and higher education systems, and we remain on the low end of the rankings.”

Don Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System, was unavailable for comment last week.

The total compensation packages for Arkansas Tech University’s president and chancellor increased nearly 40 percent and 30 percent respectively during fiscal 2012-17.

“Salaries for Arkansas Tech University employees are determined by the Arkansas Tech Board of Trustees in accordance with guidelines set forth by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas,” Sam Strasner, a spokesman for Arkansas Tech, said in an email to Arkansas Business.

As enrollment has grown at the school and its finances have improved, “a steady approach to improving pay for administrators, faculty and staff has been enacted so that Arkansas Tech may provide compensation comparable to its peer institutions and remain competitive in attracting and retaining quality employees,” Strasner said.

Still, not all of the top administrators’ compensation increased during fiscal 2012-17.

Six out of 18 of the top administrators’ positions on the list for Arkansas State University saw a decrease in total compensation in fiscal 2012-17. And seven of the positions’ total compensation rose less than 10 percent during that period.

“We work hard to control administrative costs,” Hankins said.

The total compensation for former UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, who retired at the end of July, increased just 7.7 percent during fiscal 2012-17, which was the lowest of all chancellors or presidents on the list.

Gardner said Rahn didn’t receive more compensation “due to the inability to give staff raises in some years.”

Also at UAMS, not all of the top administrators saw an increase in total compensation. Four out of 15 positions had a decrease in compensation in fiscal 2012-17.

“Some administrators were promoted to new positions between FY 2012 and FY 2017,” Gardner said. “There were cases where the salary increase was to retain an employee. There also were positions where the job descriptions were restructured between FY12 and FY17 and compensation was adjusted.”

She also said that in some cases total compensation was changed to make a salary more comparable to similar positions outside of UAMS.

ASU Chancellor Kelly Damphousse told Arkansas Business for his Executive Q&A that there are so many college and university administrators because “universities are complex organizations, so we need a certain amount of administrators to ensure that our students, faculty and staff have the resources they need to be successful.

“The big question is what that ‘certain amount’ is?” he said. “I asked our finance team to calculate the ratio of administrative costs to instructional costs.”

The national average is about 30 cents of administrative cost for every dollar of instructional cost, he said.

“A-State’s administrative cost is 20 cents for every dollar, which is very good for a university with our size and mission,” Damphousse said, referring specifically to the Jonesboro campus.

Houston Davis, the president of the University of Central Arkansas, told Arkansas Business when he started in January that he was interested in examining UCA’s administrators’ costs. “And looking at that, not only compared to peers in Arkansas but to national data sets … and how do we begin developing a metric to where you’re a leader in terms of that ratio?” he said.

UCA spokeswoman Christina Madsen told Arkansas Business last week that the salary review is continuing.

She said the review will compare UCA to peer colleges, and then nationally.

“It will let us know where we’re under or let us know if we’re over,” Madsen said.